BAPTISMThere is a trend that has set up for years now, and that is that Catholics are waiting many months to get their children baptized. I suspect that what we have here is a combination of a much lower infant mortality rate and, also, a less fervent practice of the faith by many. Further, there seems little sense among the faithful today that an unbaptized infant would be excluded from heaven.

As regards the last point, I think it is pastorally sound to trust in God’s mercy for infants who die before baptism. However, I do not think it follows that we ought to disregard or substantially delay a sacrament which Jesus commands, and which the Church indicates ought not to be delayed. The Code of Canon Law says the following:

Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay. Can. 867 §1,§2

The Catechism also states: The Church and parents deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250) So it seems clear that a higher priority should be given to scheduling the baptism of babies within the first few weeks after birth.

Protestant practice departs from the received Tradition – Another factor for American Catholics is that many are influenced by the Protestants. Protestants, (though not all of them) disagree with our Catholic practice of baptizing infants. They usually wait until a child is between 8 and 12 to baptize,  reasoning that the child will know and understand what is happening and be able to claim Christ for themselves.

But, I hope you see the supreme irony of this in the fact that the Protestants, who so emphasize that salvation does not come from works, delay baptism on the grounds that the infant has not achieved (i.e. worked up to) the proper level of maturity. To know, requires one to learn, which is a work. And we Catholics, who supposedly teach salvation through works (we do not), baptize infants who can work no work.

Novelty – Indeed, the Protestant denominations (mostly Baptists (another irony), Pentecostals, Fundamentalist and Evangelicals) who refuse baptism to infants, engage in a novelty unknown to the Church until recent times.

It is a simple historical fact that the Church has always baptized infants. Even our earliest documents speak of the practice. For example the Apostolic Tradition written about 215 A.D. has this to say:

The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. (Apostolic Tradition # 21)

Scripture too confirms that infants should be baptized if you do the math. For example

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 18:15-17 NIV)

So the Kingdom of God belongs to the little children (in Greek βρέφη (brephe) indicating infants and little children still held in the arms, babes).

And yet elsewhere Jesus also reminds that it is necessary to be baptized in order to enter the Kingdom of God: Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV)

If the Kingdom of God belongs to little children, and we are taught that we cannot inherit it without baptism, then it follows that baptizing infants is necessary, and that to fail to do so, is a hindering of the little children which Jesus forbade his apostles to do. So both Tradition and Scripture affirm the practice of baptizing infants.

Many of the Protestants who do refuse infant baptism also water down (pardon the pun!) the fuller meaning of baptism, no longer seeing it as washing away sins and conferring righteousness per se, but more as a symbol of faith that they claim to have already received when they said the “sinners prayer” and accepted Christ as their savior. But what a tragic loss for them, since baptism and particularly the baptism of infants, says some very wonderful things about the complete gratuity of salvation and the goodness of God. Consider these points:

1. The baptism of infants is a powerful testimony to the absolute gratuity (gift) of salvation. Infants have achieved nothing, have not worked, have not done anything to “merit” salvation. The Catechism puts it this way: The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant baptism. (CCC # 1250) The Church is clear, salvation cannot be earned or merited and infant baptism teaches that most clearly. Salvation is pure gift. How strange and ironic that some of the very denominations which claim that Catholics teach salvation by works (we do not) also refuse, themselves, to baptize infants. They claim that a certain age of maturity is required so that the person understands what they are doing. But this sounds like achievement to me. That the child must meet some requirement, seems like a work, or the attainment of some meritorious status wherein one is now old enough to “qualify” for baptism and salvation. “Qualifications….Achievement (of age)….Requirements….it all sounds like what they accuse us of: namely works and merit. To be clear then, the Catholic understanding of the gratuity of salvation is far more radical than many non-Catholics understand. We baptize infants who are not capable of meriting, attaining or earning.

2. The Baptism of infants also powerfully attests to the fact that the beauty of holiness and righteousness is available to everyone regardless of age. To be baptized means to be washed. Washed of what? Original Sin. At first this seems like a downer, “Are you saying my baby has sin?” Yep. All of us inherit Original Sin from Adam and Eve. We are born into a state of alienation from God that is caused by sin. The Scriptures are clear: [S]in entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12). So even infants are in need of the saving touch of God. Now why would we wish to delay this salvation and resulting holiness for 7 to 12 years? The Catechism says this,

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by Original Sin, children also have need of new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and be brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God….The Church and parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250).

St. Cyprian Bishop of Carthage in the 3rd Century was asked if it was OK to wait to the 8th day to baptize since baptism had replaced circumcision. He respond with a strong no:

But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day We [the bishops] all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. (Epist# 58).

So then here is the beauty, that infants are summoned to receive the precious gift of holiness and righteousness and that they are summoned to a right relationship with God by having their sin purged and holiness infused. Infants are called to this dignity and should not be denied it. With this done, some of the holiest and most innocent days of our lives may well be our first years. Then, as the will begins to manifest, and reason begins to dawn, the grace of holiness gives us extra strength to fight against the sinful world that looms.

3. The Baptism of Infants also attests to the fact that faith is gift for every stage of development- To be baptized is to receive the gift of faith. It is baptism that gives the true faith. Even with adults, true faith does not come until baptism. Prior to that there is a kind of prevenient faith, but it is not the Theological Virtue of Faith.

Now faith is not only an intellectual assent to revealed doctrine. It is that, but it is more. To have faith is also be be in a righteous and trusting relationship with God. An infant relates to his parents long before he speaks or his rational mind is fully formed. He trusts his parents and depends on them. It is the same with God. Thus the infant can well trust and depend on God and be in a right relationship with God, in an age appropriate way.

With his parents, his or her relationship of trust with parents, leads the infant to begin to speak and understand as he or she grows. It is the same with God. As the infant’s mind awakens, the infant’s faith grows. It will continue to grow until the day he or she dies (hopefully) as an old man or woman.

That faith accompanies us through every stage of our life, and develops as we do, is essential to its nature. An infant needs faith no less than an old man. An infant benefits from faith no less than a teenager or an adult. To argue, as some Protestants do, that you have to be a certain age before faith can exist, hardly seems to respect the progressive nature of faith which is able to bless EVERY stage of our human journey.

I have some very vivid memories of my experience of God prior to seven years of age and I will say that God was very powerfully present to me in my early years, in many ways even more so than now, when my mind sometimes “gets in the way.”

Too many Catholics are waiting months, even years to have their children baptized. Precious time is lost by this delay. Infant Baptism speaks powerfully of the love that God has for everyone he has created and of his desire to have everyone in a right and saving relationship with Him. Surely baptism alone isn’t enough. The child must be raised in the faith. It is the nature of faith that it grows by hearing and seeing. Children must have faith given at baptism but that faith must be explained and unwrapped like a precious gift for them.

Don’t delay. Get started early and teach your child the faith they have received every day.

80 Responses

  1. Shari says:

    Well actually, there is no greater fan of early baptism than I am. However I think it is not so much the parents who delay Baptism, but the church who uses it as negotiating tactic to get parents to practice their faith better, (i.e. show up, pledge, if in unauthorized marriages, to get annulments whatever etc.). Now I DO understand the business of striking while the iron is hot, however I think this sort of manuevering is unwise, and since most anybody can baptise, certainly most protestants, and even layfolk in an emergency, it tends to backfire.

    I think the Church should put out the welcome mat for infants – eg “Has your child been baptised?” and allow this sacrament to occur without making too much of a fuss about it. Otherwise, the natural thing for a consciencious parent would be to just take the kid to an Episcopal or Methodist church, where the pastor would be glad to welcome the child without giving the parents the third degree.

    • Yeah, i largely agree with you. The Brazilian Bishops conference said something similar. I am pretty open when it comes to baptisms. I Do, have more requirements when it comes to first communion and confirmation. Some parishes, however have a lot of hoops for familes to jump thru and are rather restrictive about scheduling baptisms.

    • Dan says:

      Would you also advocate baptizing the infants of heathens? “By its very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate” (CCC.1231). It would seem to be a duty of the pastor to ensure that this requirement is met by examining the parents and requiring that they are indeed living a life of faith. CCC.1255 states, “For the grace of [infant] Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important.” I would dare to say that the parents’ help is quentessential.

  2. Steve M says:

    I will apologize up front but I have Mondayitis…

    There needs to be a balance of course but aren’t we suffering now from a watering down of the Faith? “Let’s make it easy so people will come to church”. I would not advocate for silliness but shouldn’t we at least expect the parents to have some sense of the Faith and what they are commiting to for their child? Of course the child receives Sacramental Graces from Jesus and not because the parents took a class or whatever. It seems that people need to be taught the meaning of things a bit more to make sure these meanings have meanings.

    There are very few things as beautiful as a mother’s face when her child is being baptized. This has to be a glimpse of the Virgin when she looked upon her Baby. Hopefully priests are able to be very accommodating to the parents and not encourage unnecessary delays but please take the time to educate the parents on the Sacrament just a bit.

    I should probably stick with engineering especially on a Monday morning. Thank you Msgr. Pope.

    • Yes, what you say is ideal. But baptism is necessary for salvation and is also the door. As I said, I’m more picky about the other sacraments, but infant baptism for me is a little different. Once they’re in the door I and we show the families around, there’s a least a connection. But, if the child/family isn’t practicing at first communion time, well, now it’s time to buckle down. So I don’t think we disagree fundamentally. As for my parish, we do have a one hour class prior to the baptism day so it’s not totally bereft of instruction. I spend a lot of time in that session warning parents of their duties and that if they are dismissive of them it will surely be a BIG factor in their final judgement,.

      • Steve M says:

        See I knew I should stick with engineering. When it comes to theology and pastoral care I am an excellent engineer. Your actions are very loving and much more likely to win souls for Jesus. Jumping down a couple, I am very glad God carried you through those first few days. I have learned much from your blog.

  3. Shari says:

    I agree. Confirmation and First Communion is a little different, and I do think that there is a place for a little gentle arm twisting, since there are the souls of the parents to consider also :) However Baptism is so fundamental, I really think the Church needs to try to be generous about it.

  4. Maria says:

    I also think the requirements are one of the reasons for delay. I remember reading an interview with Pope Benedict (Salt of the Earth?) where he talks about being baptized the day he was born. Lots of luck with that these days! I wanted my children baptized within the week they were born, but the parish only offers them on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month, AFTER you’ve attended a parish class. I don’t think it’s possible to get a baby baptized in under a month’s time.

    • Yes, I was also baptized the day I was born, but that was due to being critically ill and not expected to make it.

    • Christopher says:

      It was in Salt of the Earth. He was actually baptised as part of the Easter Vigil service I think.

    • Ella says:

      Is is possible to take the class before birth?

    • Debra says:

      I have not found this to be the case. Though my two older children’s baptism was obviously delayed (years, in fact) as I was not Catholic, nor even a practicing Christian, at the time, the two we have had since entering the Church were both baptized in under a month. One of our parish priests visited me in the hospital when I had Madeline and used the book of blessings to confer a blessing on us both. He later baptized her at 16 days of age. Robert was baptized at just 10 days of age on St. Stephen’s day by our pastor within a close knit prayer group meeting at our chapel we had been part of the previous 2 years.

  5. Shari says:

    Wow! Well Thank God you did. (Seriously). This blog is a real blessing to us (and I am not simply being polite).

  6. Christopher says:

    Thanks for the nudge! Asked my wife to call the parish as I started reading this. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to re-take the baptism prep class to baptise kiddo #2. I don’t think they’ve changed anything in the 20 months since we baptised #1.

    Msgr. Pope, I recently read about a U.S. bishop (Phoenix, maybe?) considering or actually moving Confirmation to before First Communion maybe to concurrent with Baptism. Thoughts?

    • I don’t think you should have to take the class again, at least I hope not. I certainly do not ask my parents to take the same class all over again.

      There are a number of bishops doing what you describe. I am aware of a number of bishops who come to the parish and give confirmation and first holy communion at the same Mass. This preserves the sacraments in their proper order. I personally like the idea and think that confirming in 8th grade as most dioceses do is a poor time to do it. I have not written much on it however since my own Diocese does not have the policy you describe and I think some discretion is due on my part in not being too outspoken on the matter. In the end, I defer to the charism of the local bishop. Hence where it is celebrated as you describe, great. Where it is not, the Bishop may have good reason not to make a change at this time.

      • Erin Manning says:

        Msgr. Pope, I’ve written about this before on my blog. It is not uncommon for parents to be told that they can’t schedule a class until after the baby is born, and when they call to take the class, they get told the class is too full and that they have to wait until the next session. In many cases parents are required to take the class for EACH child, and they may not bring their small children or even the infant who is to be baptized to the class with them–yet they MUST take the class together before the baby can be baptized. A woman who is nursing a baby who is only a few weeks old cannot leave the baby with someone else while she and her husband attend a two hour or more baptism prep session, because nursing infants that young can’t take a bottle yet but eat frequently–so the parents end up waiting until the baby is older and can be left with a sitter. And then, once they have taken the class they still have to schedule the baptism…

        I used to think parents around here (Fort Worth, TX) were just lax in waiting so long (four to six months) to have babies baptized. Now I realize that there’s almost no way to do it sooner unless you have a priest or deacon as a family friend who is willing to waive some of the parish requirements. It all seems to be a part of the mentality that people must jump through hoops to have the sacraments they request for their children.

      • Debra says:

        Our diocese isn’t even doing it in the 8th grade. We are being asked to wait until high school. While I, too, feel compelled to defer to his authority, I find that many of the kids are not particularly interested in learning about their faith by this point and can’t help but wonder if that might be remedied somewhat by confirming them and allowing them that sacramental grace much earlier.

  7. Kathy says:

    I had a miscarriage when my infant was approximately six weeks old in the womb. When I had the necessary D&C, the doctor told me that all that was there was dead tissue. At the time, I didn’t even think of having the baby baptized. I didn’t even know if you can baptize dead tissue. So what you’re saying is that my child will not enter Heaven, and I will never see him/her. Where is God’s Mercy in all of this? Needless to say, I always comforted myself by thinking I would see him/her in Heaven. Where is my consolation now?

    • Come on Kathy you know I am not saying that. Please read the article again. I want to strongly encourage you to speak with your parish priest on this matter. Recent Popes, and the Theological Commission have all stated that, though the Church does not have absolute knowledge concerning the final state of unbaptized infants (since the Lord has not revealed it), there is nevertheless good grounds for confident hope that that they are with God based on both God’s justice and mercy. Again please find someone you can trust, preferably a priest or trained theologian to discuss this. Your sharp reaction here indicates to me that there are many unresolved issues wherein pastoral care may well be needed for you. I am sorry for your loss.

    • RichardC says:

      The word Limbo is not in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Church never dogmatically taught the existence of Limbo. I think we are still free to believe that there is a Limbo. At times, I have thought, that if God would offer me the deal: no Judgement, but Limbo instead of Heaven, that I might take that deal. I am not looking forward to Judgement Day. My alibis began to appear ridiculous to myself years ago. Kathy, I pray that you will one day be with your baby in Heaven, but if you should end up in Heaven and your baby is in Limbo, I am sure that you can think up other possiblities worse than that yourself.–keeping in mind that LImbo is the worst possible case for your baby.

      • RichardC says:

        Kathy, I said at least one thing in yesterday’s reply to your comment that isn’t true. I said that Limbo is the worst case scenario for you baby. Certainly, you baby is no danger of being in hell, but Limbo might not be the worst case scenario. I am trying to say that if there is a Limbo and if there is anyone in Limbo, then that is the best of all possible places for that person to be. I am confident that that is the truth. I apologise for a certain callousness and maudlin self-absorption that may have been present in yesterday’s post. I ask Monsignor Pope to correct me if I said anything in error in either yesterday’s or today’s post.

    • Amy says:

      We were able to collect our remains from the hospital after our miscarriage and had them buried in our church cemetery. Check iwth your hospital!

  8. RichardC says:

    Even if parents don’t wait until the eighth to have a baby baptised, it is neat to recall how it is connected to Abraham having Isaac circumcised on the eighth day, around 4,000 years ago.–seems like yesterday.

  9. Theresa says:

    When I called the church to schedule baptism for my first baby, I was told I couldn’t get it on the calendar until after she was born, and to call back then. That seems to be the common idea here, as I have a friend at a different parish nearby who has been told the same thing. My pastor has been understanding and has always let me schedule the baptism ahead of time (I explained that we wanted to allow time for my in-laws to buy plane tickets) but why the hassle? What’s so hard about scheduling the baptism before the birth?

    • Yes, it would seem that parish staffs are sometimes famous for having lots of little rules. I suppose the reason is that sometimes things change regarding the birth (sometimes the birth is early late, or there are heakth complications, etc) and families are not always so good in un-scheduling things as they in scheduling them. Nevertheless I will schedule a baptism prior to a birth.

      • Jennifer says:

        1. Several parishes here don’t allow scheduling until after the birth. Also, they require a birth certificate, which, in many places, can take over a month to get. Then you have to wait until an available “Baptism day” on the calendar so it can be two months or more. I had to go back and forth with my parish before they agreed to let us schedule for the week after birth. And the birth certificate puzzled me as well. I could, perhaps, understand if it was required for new parishioners, but four of my babies have been baptized in this parish. I lead the Bible study and cantor at one of the Masses. They know us well.

        2. What has become of baptizing at Sunday Mass? I loved seeing babies be baptized and the sense of community that resulted when I was a child. Some of my babies were baptized during Sunday Mass. It seems that many parishes are moving to a “Saturday only” or (worse) “one Saturday per month” schedule.

        3. I realize that donations are always welcome, but is it customary to require a large ($100-$300) donation for use of the Church for your baby’s baptism on a random Saturday–particularly if you’d have preferred baby be baptized at Sunday Mass?

        • Concern # 1 – Crazy, especially the Birth Certificate requirement. Please inform you diocese of these problems.

          # 2 – Baptisms at mass have drawbacks in that they impede the general flow of the Mass and also much of the Baptismal liturgy is truncated. Further, Babies don’t always cooperate and sleep peacefully through Mass and, if there are more than one or two, can often cause a lot of difficulties with crying etc. Bapt at Mass does have the advantage you cite but also the drawbacks. Parishes should usually schedule Baptisms on Sunday afternoons rather than Saturday, though any day is allowed, Sunday is preferred.

          # 3 Parishes cannot require fees, but may allow donations. 100 – 300 is way over the top. $25 is more usual. I suppose a certain parish might have expenses related to having baptisms at off hours and might ask or at least inform the family so they can help with the cost. But in the end, the Church must also serve and accommodate reasonably the poor who may not be able to afford requested donations.

  10. Kimberly says:

    We are practicing Catholics.
    #1-we had to attend that silly little Baptism Prep class with each birth. The class is clearly geared towards non-practicing Catholics. (OT: the CCD for grade school children is just as silly.)
    #2-as a family required to move from state to state or country to country as the case may be, it’s difficult even with modern technology to get god-parents flown in to the locale in a timely manor. Some priests allow a by-proxy stand in, some do not. Clearly the god-parent in place would be most ideal, sometimes it’s just not possible. Add to the fact that a lot of priests will only preform sacraments on certain days of the month… it just makes the wait longer.
    #3-emergency baptism should be TAUGHT. I have met a lot of parents who’s babies died, or who thought they were going to loose their babies and didn’t know they could baptize on the spot.
    #4-Catechesis in general is lacking. We need holy priests who are not afraid to offend the whims of the public. TEACH!!! I realize this point is somewhat OT however, if we had real Truth being taught we wouldn’t have problems elsewhere… including parents just showing up in time for sacraments. Either it’s lived or it isn’t. Either your home is alive in Christ or it’s not. Communion lines are long, Confession lines are short. I can’t imagine how this grieves our Lord.

    • I am not sure what you mean by OT But anyway, you remarks are generally correct. I am not sure a class can be tailored for every situation however. As for the godparents being there, I don’t require it for the reasons you state though I do encourage it if they can reasonably attend.

      Good Idea on the emergency baptism.

  11. Mary says:

    This is a good reminder regarding the necessity to baptize sooner than later. I am a convert and I did not realize I should have moved to have my children baptised sooner. With our youngest we arranged to have the baptism in our home state so our daughter was just over 2 months old and we flew. I would not do that now.

    Maria has a good point that there are parents who would baptise sooner, but are constrained by the parishes who schedule group baptisms only or who only schedule them certain Sundays. I have heard of someone being told their child could not be baptised during Lent, though this was not in this area. I have only seen parishes require classes or a prep session for the first child so I don’t see that as being a barrier unless the parish is not flexible if work schedules conflict with the meeing times. My parish has a very active ministry to many of the immigrant families to get their children baptised and to people get married or have marriages regularized if that is a barrier to them having their children baptised. Another issue is people waiting to have the baptism with family or when the godparents are available.

    I think we need to have more preaching, discussion, reposting of this blog entry regarding the need to baptise children quickly. Also, parishes should be encouraged to remove the 2nd and 4th Sunday schedule and make certain there are no innovations such as the “not during Lent”. I read that Pope Benedict indicated he was baptised during Holy Week and there are still no days when a baptism is not allowed to be performed. Coupled with that parents need to be reminded that family may or may not be there for any given baptism and there can be proxies for godparents but the important thing is for the infants to be baptised.

    • Yes, I agree that a lot of parishes are rather fussy and finicky about scheduling baptisms. There SHOULD be some sensitivity by families regarding the availability of clergy and (in busier parishes) that the church isn’t always available on demand since other activities are scheduled. However, since deacons can also baptise, I would think the clergy problem isn’t too severe. The “not during Lent” thing is a little surprising to me and seems to violate the Canon law I cite above. I can understand Holy Week generally being excluded, but not the whole of Lent.

  12. Ella says:

    I converted to The Church last April. I was one of those obnoxious Baptists who smugly disdained those who believed baptism had any merit at all and loudly proclaimed that my children would be baptized when they were “saved”. I repent sorely of the grief that caused my (Episcopalian) Grandmother. After I became Catholic, my children were all baptized as soon as I could assembly our extended family to do so. And now I anxiously await my daughter and her husband having my grandson baptized; I guess what comes around, goes around. If the Lord should choose to bless us with another child, he will be baptized within two weeks of birth (would be sooner, but c-sections are kind of brutal on the body).

    • Glad to see you are urgent about this matter. By the way, this reminds me that in the “old days” (100+ years ago) mothers were frequently not present for the baptism of their babies and convalesced about a month before resuming public duties. It was usually the godparents and (usually) the Father who took the child for baptism) Hence, after the birth when the mother was ready to return she would be given the blessing by the priest known as the “Churching of Women” (a ceremony I still do in traditional baptisms). More here: http://blog.adw.org/2010/02/lost-liturgies-file-the-churching-of-women/

      • Maria says:

        Yes, you’re right about this. I do a lot of genealogy research and it is always more reliable to use baptismal records for birth dates, because the baptisms happen almost immediately and registering the baby with the civil authorities was often weeks or months later, and Dad had forgotten the birthday by then!

  13. BGLM says:

    And, we are all very thankful you DID make it, Monsignor. The world is a far better (and more well catechized) place with you in it. :) Thank you for this informative article.

  14. Steve C says:

    Here’s Johm Martignoni on Baptism & more specifically Infant baptism http://youtu.be/y1dKAVMTYK4

  15. Shari says:

    i was baptised shortly after birth, but was pretty much raised Buddhist for the first few years of life, as my parents were immediately posted to some plague-spot, so we got packed off to relatives. I was raised semi-Christian after about 3 but had a Buddhist nanny and made a conscious decision to NOT be Christian whatever happened at 6 (because I really didn’t think that Christianity was “fair” to other faiths). But you know, starting then, and until my conversion (in my late 30s) I always felt God at my elbow. I even had Christian visions beginning immediately after I decided that I wasn’t going to be Christian and continuing.

    I think Baptism makes a critical change in people’s souls. Frankly, I think we should just take a fire hose and…and… (well you get the picture, I’ll stop).

  16. Dave says:

    Great post Msgr. Thank you for it. You replied somewhat to an earlier comment about not baptizing babies during lent, but I was wondering if you could say more about it. It is a very common practice for parishes to refuse baptism during lent and I am wondering what recourse parents can take. Is there anywhere in the Church’s teaching that supports this practice? Is there anything that explicitly condemns it besides conclusions reached from the above Canon Law? Thank you.

    • I suppose if a dialogue with the pastor is not fruitful, the Bishop, the dean or the priest personnel director could be consulted and asked to direct the Pastor. In this Archdiocese (Washington DC) our Liturgical norms and policies states the following about Lenten Baptisms:

      Since parents have the right and obligation under law to have their infants baptized shortly after they are born, and since there is certainly no requirement nor even a provision in the law for pastors to deny, or for parents to refrain from, the baptism of infants during the entire season of Lent, such a practice is neither to be introduced, nor maintained where it has been introduced already. Depending on particular circumstances, however (e.g. if the birth occurs very late in the Lenten season), pastors are permitted to suggest that the baptism be delayed until Easter. (ADW Lit Norms 3.13.9)

      a Footnote in the norms also specifies that generally speaking Mon-Thursday of Holy Week is a poor time to do a baptism, but also indicates that even here it is not strictly forbidden.

      Hence I would say that you are on good grounds to appeal such a pastoral stance if your pastor is unmoved by your request for reconsideration.

  17. Deirdre says:

    I had all 4 of my children Baptised with in the week of their births. But when my grand children came along I was very distressed to find that none of the parish priest in 3 different ones and in 2 different states would consider Baptism until after Lent. And with the threat of SIDS, it was very troublesome to say the least. I would hope that the Bishops would address this issue of all parishes being on the same page.

  18. Cynthia BC says:

    In the decade we’ve belonged to our parish, we have never
    not once
    ever
    seen a Baptism at Mass.

    Is Baptism usually done separately?

    • Yes it is usually done on Sunday afternoon in most psrishes. Baptism has its own liturgy apart from mass. And, while it can be done in mass, the logistics of most parishes is too complex to introduce more into the Mass.

  19. Kay says:

    I wish I had known you 34 yrs ago when I tried to get my son Baptised. His father was scrupulous and would not let me have his sister as the godmother and his dad would not commit, consequently he was not Baptised a Roman Catholic, but later Baptised Eastern Orthodox and Chrismated at the same time. I wanted him to be a Catholic but when refused by the older priest I was devastated . I believed their sacraments were valid and wanted him to have this sacrament. I have been praying for my grandchildren, only two out of five have received the sacrament, my grown children are a part of that “trend” you mentioned above. My requests are falling on deft ears. Thank you for your blog.

  20. Jenni says:

    We have had all 5 kids baptized within a month of their birth. All were scheduled before they were born and not on the regularly scheduled weekend for baptisms at either of the parishes we have been parishoners at. There seems to be this, “why do I have to…” mentality amoungst people today. Why do I have to go to baptism class… If you show up (or call) a place where they don’t know you and request to have something done for you without showing any kind of interest in being a part of that group, it behooves me to think why a parish (priest/staff) might be skeptical of scheduling to meet the needs of the persons in question.
    The reason our parishes have been willing to make “exceptions” (not baptizing at the regular weekend, time…) is because they know us. We attend there. We are there other times that aren’t Sunday. We have our priests over for dinner. They know our kids names. We are a part of the parish.
    Absolutly we should baptize the babies of people who have been away from the Church (for any length of time) but just because they call and want to schedule it…?

    • Theresa says:

      I don’t know, Jenni. I’m involved with my parish, my pastor knows me, and yes, HE was willing to be flexible with me. But it’s those stupid rules when you call the office… I have a good friend who’s “super-Catholic” – neither she nor any of her five kids ever miss daily mass, etc. (Seriously, she’s a model to me in many ways.) But they only moved to the area a couple of years ago, and they have family all over the country. Shortly before her last baby was due, she was lamenting to me that she couldn’t schedule the baptism ahead of time, and didn’t know what to tell all the relatives. I told her to e-mail the pastor, and I think she did so, but she’s obedient – when she was told by the office that it couldn’t be done, she didn’t question it; she just went along with it. The point is, some ‘hoops’ make sense (baptism class for non-practicing folks, for example), but others really don’t (scheduling before birth).

  21. Katherine says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Growing up in the Orthodox Church and then later becoming Catholic (I am Melkite), baptism of infants traditionally occurs around 40 days after the child is born or, if born during a penitential season, then on the feast day following (meaning Christmas, Pascha, or the Dormition of the Theotokos), when both the mother and baby would be churched and then the baby baptized, chrismated, and communicated (receives first communion) . How does this compare to the way the western Catholic Church traditionally views/ed the baptism of infants. Was there ever a waiting period after birth?

    Thank you!

  22. Julia says:

    I’m 67 and the eldest of 6 kids. I was baptized in a hospital chapel because my father was about to leave for Northern France in 1944. The other 5 were baby boomers born after the war. For all of them, my mom with child was in the hospital for 2 weeks and was not supposed to do much when she got home. So my brothers and sisters were baptized at 2 weeks with my dad, the godparents and the older kids. A little reception was held at home and the neighbors & relatives did the work; my mom sat in a chair with her legs up. The important thing was the baptism.

    With my grandchildren, baptisms were months later and it seemed that the big party afterward was the focus of everybody. Large party with mom doing all the work. The delay wasn’t due to out-of-town godparents or relatives. The parents were Catholic but grandfather remarried a Protestant. At church the focus was on taking good photographs and not what was happening. Protestant step-grandma crowded in around the baptismal fount so that nobody could see what was taking place. The focus at the party was presents of toys and money, not religious gifts except from grandma – me. I’m just glad that all 3 of my sons remained Catholic and married sincerely Catholic girls. The Protestant in-laws weren’t interested in First Communion so that went much better.

    Mixed marriages and Protestant in-laws are the source of some of these problems. The surrounding Protestant culture and the unchurched are very influential.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      The in-laws’ behavior is a display of poor manners, nothing more and nothing less. To attribute their behavior to being Protestant is both uncharitable and untruthful.

  23. David says:

    My concern is that the sacrament not be effectively reduced to a superstition-thing. If parents don’t actually believe but are just hedging their bets, or just want to get it done for cultural continuity, then, since they must speak – profess the faith – on behalf of their baby, you are effectively inviting them to lie if you don’t warn them *away* from approaching the sacrament, *unless* they sincerely intend to raise their children in the faith (notably, following the basic precepts of the Church, which often they do not). If one wants to focus on the necessity of baptism for the child, fine, but let’s also be clear about the necessity of a sincere confession of faith from the parents, as opposed to “Answer ‘I do’ to the following questions (if you don’t really mean it, oh well – you’re still welcome to say it):…” I’d rather see insincere Catholic parents head over to some protestant church, if that is where their faith is actually at. The baby will still get a valid baptism, and there is no damage done to the integrity of the Church through a lack of clarity about the importance of the eighth commandment.

    • Shari says:

      Baptism is for the child, not for the parent. It is not the sincerity of the parent, nor their good intentions, let alone their preceeding or later good works that makes Baptism efficacious. It is the grace of God. There is no reason to prevent a child from receiving the grace of Baptism, because of the limitations or sins of that child’s parents. I’d rather see insincere Catholic parents get their children baptised, than delay, postpone and perhaps never do this because of fears on OUR part that we are just being superstitious. (Whom are we trying to impress? Let others think we are superstitious). If we truly believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation, (okay Jesus can and will make exceptions) then the church should hasten to baptise innocents brought to them, regardless of the sins of the parents.

      • Anne Marie says:

        That is why I am not only is for having baptism for the babies, but in the event that a child was not baptised as a baby, and my parish has both not only the RCIA, but also the RCIC as well. At least a child is baptised, even if the child is older. One of the members of my adult parish choir, coming from OK, said at the Easter vigil a few years back, she said that there were up to 52 baptisms/receptions of new Catholics, including whole families. So it is never too indeed.

      • David says:

        Two points: Yes, baptism is for the child, but you’re ignoring my point about sincerity and honesty. We must either warn against insincerity or make the vicarious profession of faith optional (for those who cannot make it sincerely). Which ties in to my second point: The vicarious profession of faith cannot be optional; if it were and if it were licit to focus only on the need of the child for baptism, then we could legitimately surreptitiously baptize infants without the consent of their parents, which I’m quite certain is contrary to the Church’s teaching on baptism.

    • Shari says:

      What does “thou shalt not steal” have to do with Baptism? Jacob stole his brother’s blessing but God, disproving of the theft, and ensuring that he would provide restitution (14 years later) still was pleased to be in covenant with Jacob.

      • Marie says:

        Shari, in the Catholic enumeration of the Ten Commandments, the 8th Commandment is “Thou shalt not bear false witness”.

        The Protestants break apart the 1st Commandment into two (adding “no graven images” as a separate commandment, which Catholics understand as being part of “no false gods before me”). They then combine the 9th (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife) and 10th commandments (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods) into one (“Thou shalt not covet”).

    • Cynthia BC says:

      I can’t speak for all Protestants, but in the Lutheran church Baptism is as important as a Sacrament to us as it is to Catholics. In our tradition, Baptism is done as part of the regular service: the parents/sponsors confess their faith and take the oath to rear the child in the faith. That confession/oath is witnessed not only by friends and family members, but by the community of faith.

      The suggestion that insincere parents be sent our way is extremely insulting.

      • Marie says:

        Perhaps they would be sincerely Lutheran :) I think that’s what the poster was getting at. If they can’t sincerely promise to raise the children Catholic, then perhaps there’s a denomination that they could sincerely promise to raise the children in.

      • David says:

        To clarify: I did not say send them to just any protestant church. For churches which take the same view of baptism as the Catholic Church, clearly the same arguments against baptism in cases of insincere parents would apply as apply in the case of the Catholic Church. So no, my comment was not at all insulting – you just misunderstood its implications. :)

  24. ashley says:

    I have a couple friends who are not practicing members of the Church.. My friend’s husband’s mother is very active in a small parish, and subsequently was allowed to schedule their three children’s baptisms when they were young infants, without having to do any prep work. My friend is not even Catholic at all. Another friend is friends with a priest and so were allowed to schedule their infants baptisms easily as well.

    I am due with our second any day now, and since we have a five year old who was baptized as an infant, and we are practicing and active members of the church, we didn’t think to schedule any classes early on. My brother in law and his wife will be our godparents, and his children are only with him one weekend a month as they visit their biological mother the other three. We want our nieces and nephew to be there for the baptism, and are having such a difficult time. We didn’t know that we would have to take the classes again. My brother in law has had four infants baptized (one with his new wife) and they are expecting a fifth in Sept. He and his wife are also godparents to a couple children as well, and my husband and I are our niece’s godparents. So I basically feel that we are competent within the church and am frustrated that we are having such difficulty in scheduling this sacrament.

    Thank you for listening to my rant!!!

    And I completely understand your stance in having more involvement with the other sacraments, but infant baptism should be a given, especially when you’re active in the church…

  25. lt says:

    I thought no baptisms during lent was a common diocesan policy. In just trying to schedule my 4th and 5th child’s baptism, we did it Easter morning of 2010 and 2012. I debated with my priest that I thought the policy really contradicted the teaching of baptism and that it just encouraged us the “faithful” to presume more on God’s mercy, and he was willing to do a quiet baptism. But it didn’t feel right to ask our priest to disobey our Bishop either. It really gives the feeling that baptism is unneccessary though when the prevailing reasons have to do with Lent being penitential and therefore devoid of any celebrations – since that is all baptism is: a celebration welcoming the child into our parish family. The irony to me was that Jesus’ baptism and many baptism references were part of our readings for the first 3 weeks of Lent this year… Anyway, sometimes I rant too.

    • Marie says:

      It,
      “that is all baptism is: a celebration welcoming the child into our parish family” … It’s much more than that! (Was that the point you were making?) Baptism bestows sanctifying grace on the soul, bringing it to life with God’s light.

  26. Kay says:

    Katherine,
    As I understand it, there is no waiting period as there is in the Eastern rites/Orthodox churches. A baptism should be arranged as early as possible, however this is contrary to a current trend.
    I have been to many churching ceremonies in the Orthodox church and I think the tradition is beautiful. Is this part of the Melkite tradition? I am a practicing Catholic and my husband is an Antiochian (Lebanese ) Orthodox we both appreciate the beauty and mystery of each tradition and he goes to Mass with me every Sunday.

    • Katherine says:

      Kay,

      I think it depends on which eastern tradition you belong to. The Slavic traditions tend to differ from the Greek/Constantinopolitan traditions, which tends to differ from say the Maronite traditions. Some have adopted more western practices, though contrary to what past popes have encouraged.

      We (Greek/Constantinopolitan) have had a 40 day waiting period OR the waiting period of the penitential season for a very long time (there are mentions of this waiting period even back with some of the early Greek fathers) – we generally do not baptize during St. Philip’s Fast (Advent), Great Lent, the Apostles fast (from pentecost to the feast of Peter and Paul), or the Dormition Fast (the two weeks before the Dormition or Assumption of the Theotokos). The 40 day waiting period I believe came in as tied to the traditional amount of time the woman would remain at home before being Churched (received back after giving childbirth) AND to the Biblical symbolism of the 40 (take Noah for example, Moses in the wilderness, number of days for cleanliness, etc). This is not a “recent” development, but from what I gather, a rather old one. Generally, celebratory sacraments (ordinations, marriages, baptism/confirmation) are reserved for liturgically appropriate times. But the reason for this is because you fast and feast when it is liturgically appropriate, and as fasting times are solemn times, we do not feast. Obviously, health of the child is taken into consideration.

      To give an example, my first was born right as the St. Philip’s fast began, so she was baptized on the feast of Theophany (Epiphany). My second was born during Lent and he was baptized on Pascha (Easter).

      Also, something else to note, the reception of the sacraments of initiation are a bigger deal liturgically than in the West. What I mean by this is that baptism generally occur on a Sunday, before Divine Liturgy, with not only family and friends present, but also the parishioners of the church. It is as big as a wedding and in many churches, even bigger (though in America, some of this is lost). This is because this is the initiation of a new child of God. The Church sees this as THE event in that person’s life and celebrates it accordingly. I have been to many baptisms where the whole village partakes in the celebration (both liturgical and afterwards).

      In the end, I wonder if some of the difference is really more a difference in the view of Liturgical awareness. For the Eastern Churches generally, it seems that liturgical seasons are observed more strictly to the point of allotting specific times that certain sacraments can be conferred. I do not see this as a failing on either tradition’s side, but rather the beauty of the development of local traditions within each church and rite.

  27. Anne Marie says:

    Wonderful commentary Msgr. Pope!

    Just wondering though, even though you said have the baby baptized ASAP, I also believed that and I have seen a few years back, during the Easter eve service and mass, a child who was baptized, and my parish has not just only RCIA but also an older children’s version of it called RCIC. While it is very important to get the child baptized when they are babies, it is also never too late to get them baptized when they are older also, just get them baptized, period.

  28. Janine says:

    Baptism is not salvation.

    • In the days of Noah while the ark was being built, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism which now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:20-21

  29. Bryan says:

    I Think Part Of This Trend Is Due To The Administrative Fees For The Baptism Preparation Class Since I Have Seen Them As High As $60 – Over $100. Some People Cannot Afford To Pay That On Top Of All The Other Basic Costs Of Living. I Don’t Blame Anybody Wanting To Avoid Going Into Debt.

  30. gary says:

    Why is the New Testament silent on Infant Baptism?

    Baptist/evangelical response:

    The reason there is no mention of infant baptism in the New Testament is because this practice is a Catholic invention that developed two to three centuries after the Apostles. The Bible states that sinners must believe and repent before being baptized. Infants do not have the mental maturity to believe or to make a decision to repent. If God had wanted infants to be baptized he would have specifically mentioned it in Scripture. Infant baptism is NOT scriptural.

    Lutheran response:

    When God made his covenant with Abraham, God included everyone in Abraham’s household in the covenant:

    1. Abraham, the head of the household.
    2. His wife.
    3. His children: teens, toddlers, and infants
    4. His servants and their wives and children.
    5. His slaves and their wives and children.

    Genesis records that it was not just Abraham who God required to be circumcised. His son, his male servants, and his male slaves were all circumcised; more than 300 men and boys.

    Did the act of circumcision save all these people and give them an automatic ticket into heaven? No. Just as in the New Covenant, it is not the sign that saves, it is God’s declaration that saves, received in faith. If these men and boys grew in faith in God, they would be saved. If they later rejected God by living a life of willful sin, they would perish.

    This pattern of including the children of believers in God’s covenant continued for several thousand years until Christ’s resurrection. There is no mention in the OT that the children of the Hebrews were left out of the covenant until they reached an Age of Accountability, at which time they were required to make a decision: Do I want to be a member of the covenant or not? And only if they made an affirmative decision were they then included into God’s covenant. Hebrew/Jewish infants and toddlers have ALWAYS been included in the covenant. There is zero evidence from the OT that says otherwise.

    Infants WERE part of the covenant. If a Hebrew infant died, he was considered “saved”.

    However, circumcision did NOT “save” the male Hebrew child. It was the responsibility of the Hebrew parents to bring up their child in the faith, so that when he was older “he would not depart from it”. The child was born a member of the covenant. Then, as he grew up, he would have the choice: do I want to continue placing my faith in God, or do I want to live in willful sin? If he chose to live by faith, he would be saved. If he chose to live a life of willful sin and never repented, and then died, he would perish.

    When Christ established the New Covenant, he said nothing explicit in the New Testament about the salvation of infants and small children; neither do the Apostles nor any of the writers of the New Testament. Isn’t that odd? If the new Covenant no longer automatically included the children of believers, why didn’t Christ, one of the Apostles, or one of the writers of the NT mention this profound change?

    Why is there no mention in the NT of any adult convert asking this question: “But what about my little children? Are you saying that I have to wait until my children grow up and make a decision for themselves, before I will know if they will be a part of the new faith? What happens if my child dies before he has the opportunity to make this decision?” But no, there is no record in Scripture that any of these questions are made by new converts to the new faith. Isn’t that really, really odd??? As a parent of small children, the FIRST question I would ask would be, “What about my little children?”

    But the New Testament is completely silent on the issue of the salvation or safety of the infants and toddlers of believers. Another interesting point is this: why is there no mention of any child of believers “accepting Christ” when he is an older child (8-12 years old) or as a teenager and then, being baptized? Not one single instance and the writing of the New Testament occurred over a period of 30 years, approximately thirty years after Christ’s death: So over a period of 60 years, not one example of a believer’s child being saved as a teenager and then receiving “Believers Baptism”. Why???

    So isn’t it quite likely that the reason God does not explicitly state in the NT that infants should be baptized, is because everyone in first century Palestine would know that infants and toddlers are included in a household conversion. That fact that Christ and the Apostles did NOT forbid infant baptism was understood to indicate that the pattern of household conversion had not changed: the infants and toddlers of believers are still included in this new and better covenant.

    Circumcision nor Baptism was considered a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. It was understood under both Covenants that the child must be raised in the faith, and that when he was older, he would need to decide for himself whether to continue in the faith and receive everlasting life, or choose a life of sin, breaking the covenant relationship with God, and forfeiting the gift of salvation.

    Which of these two belief systems seems to be most in harmony with Scripture and the writings of the Early Christians?

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  31. John-Paul says:

    The thing is these days a baptism cost a lot of money. You have to pay a “donation” to the Church for performing the baptism which was £60 per child in my diocese, keep in mind I had 3 babies to have baptised. Then we have the party to pay for, the room hire, the food etc, gifts and cards etc it is not cheap these days so some of us that are not wealthy have to save for some time. To be honest my Priest did not batter an eyelid that my babies got baptised at 8 months. Keep in mind that months fly by when you have a baby/babies so what seems months to you seems weeks to us. It flys by so fast. That being said, we are expecting another baby and this time the baptism will be sooner than the last ones where.

  32. P Fitzgerald says:

    My daughter has sought for months even prior to giving birth to have her son baptized. The church has denied her this because the rules now require the she be married to the father of the baby, that they be contributing members of the church, that their friends have letters attesting to their being registered (i.e., paying) practitioners of their parish, that classes be taken, etc., etc., etc. The baptism is a blessing. That she seeks it for her son is commendable. That the church refuses her permission is pathetic. I’ve encouraged her to change her religion and seek comfort elsewhere as this is a recent man-made tactic to force people to live in a certain manner. Her parish accepts her money weekly but that isn’t good enough. Her parish accepts non-standard weddings (i.e., gays/lesbians) but refuses her permission. Where is the morality of the church in denying an infant this blessing? Personally, although raised a Catholic, I find the teachings and practices of the church offensive in many respects. They’ve sheltered priests who’ve committed atrocities yet make a reverent young woman and her son outcasts. Shame on them.

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